While positive reinforcement can improve employee morale and brighten a workplace environment, unfortunately it is not realistic to use it as the only form of safety motivation. No matter how well-crafted your safety policies and procedures are, if you don’t have a means of enforcing them, you might as well not have any at all. This is where discipline comes into place. If employees are not following safe practices, they need to be informed of their mistakes and, depending on the context of the violation, be disciplined. The purpose of the program is to instill safe practices in all of your employees, and a progressive discipline program is one of the ways to ensure that all employees are accountable for their actions.
Encourage your employees to self-report unsafe conditions.
Discipline is an important step, but there are a number of steps that you can take before discipline becomes necessary. It is crucial when crafting your discipline program that you explain to your employees that you do not want to punish them; the ultimate goal is improving workplace safety. If your employees feel that they will get in trouble for committing safety violations, they are less likely to report unsafe conditions or accidental slip-ups. In addition to a disciplinary system, create a reporting system for employees to inform you of potential trouble spots or “Near Misses” – unplanned events that could have resulted in injury, illness, or damage. We recommend a Safety Opportunities program that will encourage employees to self-report any potential trouble sources with incentives in place. This will prevent your employees from feeling discouraged by your discipline program and will allow you to potentially eliminate unsafe things before they occur.
Implement a progressive discipline program.
If, however, a severe safety violation does occur, you and your workplace will be better off if you make use of a progressive discipline program. We recommend a progressive discipline program because it will allow you to take the appropriate disciplinary action relative to the safety violation. After you’ve created your discipline program, make sure that it has been made available to all employees, and encourage them to come to you if they have any questions or concerns with the program.
The four steps of a progressive discipline program are:
- Verbal Warning. Communication is key, particularly when it comes to matters like workplace safety. If it is the employee’s first safety violation, the violation is minor, or it is an inadvertent mistake, give them a warning and explain what they did wrong and how it can be fixed. The problem will be addressed without making the employee feel that they have gotten in trouble, and work can continue as normal.
- Written Program. For an employee with multiple offenses or for a slightly more severe violation, issue another warning, but place this one in their employee file. This will act as a slightly more severe warning while simultaneously allowing you to keep a record of potential sources of danger in the workplace.
- Suspension. Employees who consistently commit infractions or commit more dangerous ones should be placed on leave. It is up to you how long you would like to suspend them.
- Termination. If an employee does not pay any attention to your warnings and continues to exhibit unsafe behavior, particularly if it becomes dangerous for the employee and his or her coworkers, they should be terminated for the safety of your company.
Though only one of the above steps explicitly asks for writing, in the discipline process it is crucial that you thoroughly document each employee’s disciplinary record and any disciplinary actions that you take. This ensures that you have a thorough record of all safety measures taken in the workplace, and helps you to monitor yourself and ensure that you are applying your discipline measures on a consistent basis across the company. Business & Legal Resources warns that some employees may be able to file retaliation claims if they feel that they have been unfairly disciplined in any way, and keeping thorough documentation of all disciplinary actions will help you to prove that all disciplinary actions were carried out in accordance with the program’s guidelines.
About Compass RMS
The risk management firm Risk Management, Inc. has specialized in workers’ compensation since 1996, creating the CWCP (Certified Workers’ Compensation Professional) program in 1999 and the P4 process in 2000. We launched our Compass Risk Management platform in 2008 and recently released version 4.0. For more information about our services, give us a call at (770) 534-2042 to speak with one of our consultants.